UN probes Lebanon bomb attack on peacekeepers

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The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said Saturday it has launched an investigation into a roadside bomb blast that wounded six Italian peacekeepers, two of them seriously, and two civilians.

"For now, all we can say is that UNIFIL's forensics team is working with the Lebanese army to investigate the explosion," the mission's spokesman, Neeraj Singh, told AFP.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the bomb attack which targeted a UNIFIL jeep on a main highway linking the capital Beirut to south Lebanon, where the 12,000-strong force is deployed.

The explosion, which occurred at the entrance to the mainly Sunni city of Sidon on Lebanon's southern coast, wounded two passers-by and six Italian troops.

Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa on Saturday announced his country would reduce the size of its contingent, the largest in the multi-national force.

"At the moment we have 1,780 soldiers, but it's too many," La Russa said Saturday in an interview with La Repubblica newspaper.

"As we are no longer in command of the mission, then we should reduce our contribution to 1,100 as soon as possible," he told the daily.

La Russa had confirmed Friday that six of his country's troops in Lebanon were injured, including two who were in critical condition.

Spain currently holds command of UNIFIL, which was founded in 1978 and is tasked with overseeing a fragile peace at the southern Lebanese border with Israel.

After Italy, France forms the largest contingent with 1,600 soldiers followed by Spain, which contributes 1,100 peacekeepers.

Friday's blast, in a normally quiet area outside UNIFIL's area of operations, came two days before the United Nations marks Peacekeepers Day and hours after a commemoration ceremony in south Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, to honour 292 UNIFIL peacekeepers who have died in service.

An AFP correspondent at the scene of the blast said the front of the jeep had been destroyed in the blast, and several buildings nearby damaged.

The blast came as fears of security breaches are mounting in Lebanon, which has entered its fifth month without government after Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah forced the collapse of Hariri's pro-Western unity cabinet.

There are also fears the unrest in neighbouring Syria could spill over into Lebanon.

The explosion, the first of its kind since 2008, has drawn widespread condemnation from local and international officials, including Lebanese caretaker premier Saad Hariri who said the blast targeted the "safety and well-being of Lebanon and its people."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the "deplorable" attack, saying his organisation would work with Lebanese authorities to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The UN Security Council also condemned the attack "in the strongest terms."

Britain and the United States both condemned the attack, with US State Department spokesman Mark Toner calling on Lebanon to "ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice."

UNIFIL was initially set up to monitor Lebanon's border with Israel but expanded after a devastating 2006 war between the Jewish state and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The force has been the target of three other unclaimed attacks, the latest in January 2008 when two Irish officers were wounded by a roadside bomb.

In the deadliest attack, three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in June of 2007 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle drove by.


© 2011 AFP

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